Every year, there’s some artist who wants to proclaim the album dead. Things are too different now, it’s an outdated model for our brave new world. And then, like clockwork, every year there is an unbelievable slate of great albums that drop and completely embarrass that tired opinion.
Fresh debuts, returning champions adding another banner in their building, bands and musicians who somehow top the fantastic records they’ve already managed to make; all of this and more can be found in the fantastic albums of 2015. Here are the 40 best.
40. Foo Fighters – Saint Cecila EP
I, like most people on the internet, am an unabashed Dave Grohl fanatic. He seems like one of most genuine and admirable guys in music – and he’s been involved in just about everything cool over the last 20+ years in rock music. This year saw Foo Fighters performing to massive stadium crowds all summer long, despite a pretty grave injury to their frontman, and then they dropped a surprise record on us this fall in Saint Cecelia. The EP is a collection of new and old material that came together over some margaritas and partying with the local of Austin, Texas.
Dave has dubbed this release a retrospective, stating, “We were going through decades of songs no one has ever heard, pieces left on the cutting room floor from every album.” Perhaps the biggest Standout track, “Sean,” honestly feels like it could’ve fit in just fine with either their self-titled debut or The Colour and the Shape.
-Spencer Hansen (@_andampers)
39. Jamie xx – In Colour
The adventurous and expansive sounds of In Colour manages to do something that seems nearly impossible for a lesser artist: bring the energy and inventiveness of a live DJ set in a compact version that’s with you at all times. Perhaps, more so than any other record this year, In Colour seems incredibly present upon every listen.
And even stranger than that, Jamie xx had a bona fide song of the summer come from the album in “I Know (There’s Gonna Be Good Times).” Unexpected? Sure. But not impossible from someone as talented as Jamie xx.
-Michael Depland (@mdepland)
38. Girlpool – Before the World Was Big
2015 was jam-packed with albums that could be described as “epic” in both scope and sound. Armed with just a guitar, a bass and their own voices, Girlpool made a great case for liking things small.
Before the World Was Big is no-frills rock that doesn’t let anything (not even a drummer) get in the way of their heart-on-sleeve ruminations on friendship and awe at just how much of that epic Earth the young duo have yet to see.
37. Gary Clark, Jr. – The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
The Story of Sonny Boy Slim is a neo-soul album that carries listeners down a winding path, nodding to Gary Clark, Jr.’s influences like Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Al Green, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan mixed in with a heavy dose of hip-hop.
The album’s title comes from a combination of nicknames that Clark picked up over the course of his career – much like his style – which began in Austin, Texas. His emergence as a blues-rock icon over the past few years has been quite the fun adventure to watch, and Slim is a fantastically colorful pit stop on that winding road.
-Sarah Ravits (@ravlove)
36. Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful
My first thought when I heard about Bronson a few years back was that “that dude has a great name — really top notch.” And while I enjoyed the verses of his I heard here and there, I remember being flat out blown away by “Baby Blue,” his collaboration with Chance the Rapper. With that track, I knew that he was true hip-hop, and I was all in on Bronson. Comparisons to Ghostface Killah aside, Mr. Wonderful is a rock solid album by the Queens emcee and former chef.
-Ryan O’Connell (@rynofrommaine)
35. Screaming Females – Rose Mountain
It might seem counter-intuitive, but most punk vocalists aren’t known for their vocal chops. Marissa Paternoster is not your typical punk vocalist.
She has always had a leading voice that can peel the flesh off your bones, one that couldn’t even be held back by punk’s lo-fi aesthetics, but the slick production this time around allowed the rest of the band to show why they deserved to share the stage with her. The resulting punk/fantasy metal hybrid sounds like music that Frodo Baggins’ grandson would bust skulls to, but non-bookworms need not worry. Rose Mountain hit with a force that even non-nerds can dig.
34. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Medical experts advise you to not listen to Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens’ stunning indie-folk throwback, in one sitting. It’s too depressing. The songs may be quiet and sparse, but the emotions are heavy. Stevens is grasping with his own morality, and grief over the death of his mother.
Yet all this grief and despair (and occasionally, anger) results in some of the prettiest songs of Stevens’ career. The most autobiographical, too. He’s baring his emotionally vulnerable soul, like a scrapbook without any happy memories. Yet Carrie & Lowell isn’t oppressive. It’s therapeutic, for both singer and listener.
-Josh Kurp (@joshkurp)
33. The Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ
Even knowing John Darnielle’s reputation, I’ll admit that I thought Beat the Champ seemed too gimmicky for its own good. An album that tells the stories of the tragic stars of the territorial era of pro wrestling feels like a writing prompt gone rogue. I was wrong to doubt him.
In the unglamorous world of regional wrasslin’ circuits, Darnielle uncovered a host of kindred spirits. The album is full of beautiful portraits of Darnielle’s fellow barely known road warriors, all of whom are willing to bleed in order to connect in some small way with their audience.
– Alex Galbraith
32. The Arcs – Yours, Dreamily
A couple years ago, during perhaps the highest peak of The Black Keys’ career, Dan Auerbach decided to release a solo album. It was really good; an interesting look into what could have been if Auerbach hadn’t elected to do the two-man band thing. Consider that sneak peek to be a full panoramic view now as Auerbach has again ventured outside of the Keys, this time with some of the band’s touring musicians.
With The Arcs, Auerbach has created a wonderfully lush and full flowered wall of sound with horns, melodies, and multiple drummers. It’s as if he challenged himself to make every opposite move he would have made with The Black Keys. Well played, sir. Well played.
-Ryan O’Connell (@rynofrommaine)
31. Sports – All of Something
Neil Young has been shouting out of our stereos that “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” for more than three decades. In theory, this is what we want as music fans. No one likes to see aging stars totter on into irrelevance, no matter what the ticket sales of U2 and The Rolling Stones say.
Even knowing that, Sports’ calling it quits after only their second full-length album carried a bit of a sting. And it only grows greater after repeated listens of All of Something show that this young band was really, really good.